Plastic Bag Ban, Legal Marijuana on California Ballot

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By Carolyn Whetzel

Oct. 21 — The fate of the nation’s first-ever statewide ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags is in the hands of California voters.

Measures backed by the plastic bag industry seeking to overturn the 2014 law are among four initiatives with environmental implications on California’s statewide Nov. 8 ballot.

Proposition 67 asks voters to repeal or confirm the law (S.B. 270) that was to be phased in beginning July 1, 2015, but suspended after the industry scored enough signatures to qualify the measure for the 2016 ballot. The related Proposition 65 aims to redirect to environmental programs a 10-cent bag fee that currently goes to grocers to cover their costs of implementing the ban.

Also on the ballot are Proposition 53, a proposed constitutional amendment seeking voter approval for any single project financed with a state revenue bond over $2 billion and Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana that would include regulations to avoid environmental harm from growing cannabis.

Propositions 65 and 67

S.B. 270 marked a victory for environmental groups seeking to eliminate the thin plastic bags grocers and other retailers use. The bags wind up in landfills, litter streets and parks, beaches, mountain and desert areas and wash into storm drains, rivers and streams and the ocean. They threaten wildlife and marine life, Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said in the state’s voter guide.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry-backed group, has spent more than $6.1 million on Propositions 65 and 67 and wants voters to overturn the law, or at the very least, block retailers from keeping the bag fees collected from consumers.

Claims the bags create blight in communities are overblown, Jon Berrier, a spokesman for the alliance, a project of The Society of the Plastic Industry, told Bloomberg BNA. One study showed the bags accounted for only 1 percent of the litter in communities, so “banning them is not going to reduce litter,” he said.

`Misguided Law.’

“This is a terribly misguided law,” Berrier said, calling S.B. 270 “a special interest giveaway to grocers under the guise of an environmental measure.”

The law allows grocers to keep millions of dollars year in bag fees, he said. The ban also stands to eliminate 25,000 jobs at plastic bag manufacturers across the country, including 2,000 in California, Berrier said.

Proposition 65 would require the bag fees that retailers charge for recyclable paper bags go to an environment fund administered by the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board. If the ban is repealed and Proposition 65 passes, any future statewide ban would require any bag fees go to the environmental fund.

By the time S.B. 270 was signed into law, more than 100 California cities and counties had already imposed bans. The plastic bag industry fought the bans, often in the courts.

Retailers prefer a single, consistent statewide ban.

150 Local Bans

Now, more than 150 communities, covering more than 40 percent of the state have adopted bag bans, Mark Murray of the Californians Against Waste told Bloomberg BNA.

“Plastic litter has been reduced by 59 percent in parks and on roadsides and 76 percent in creeks and rivers,” Murray said. “A yes vote on Prop 67 will finish the job, eliminating the remaining 25 million plastic bags that continue to be generated in California every day.”

The “Yes” on Proposition 67 campaign has spent over $1.9 million, which includes grocers and environmental groups, to preserve the ban.

Proposition 64

Should California voters pass Proposition 64 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and tax its sale and cultivation, 20 percent of the new revenue would support cleanup and prevention of the environmental damage stemming from “illegal marijuana grows,” as the crops are known, including illegal water use and diversion and pesticide pollution.

“Proposition 64 is not just a landmark social-justice movement – it’s an important environmental measure that, for the first time, meaningfully addresses the harms caused by illegal marijuana grows and water diversion across California’s precious natural landscape,” Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Yes on 64 campaign, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. “That’s why it’s the first marijuana policy measure ever endorsed by the California League of Conversation Voters and Planning and Conservation League.”

The measure would “build upon and expand” environmental protections in recently enacted medial marijuana laws and “provide hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding” to restore lands harmed by illegal cultivation and enforce laws against illegal growing, Kinney said.

Under Proposition 64, all licensees would have to comply with state laws and regulations related to environmental impacts, natural resources protection, water quality, water supply and pesticide use. The measure also would require growers to obtain water use permits and have to use “unique identifier” program to help ensure compliance with laws.

A multi-agency task force initially established to address environmental impacts from the illegal growing of medical marijuana would enforce laws to curb cultivation illegal cultivation of nonmedical cannibus, under the measure.

The No on 64 campaigns include several law enforcement groups, anti-drug organizations, California Hospital Association and others who say the initiative fails to adequately address public safety concerns, would put local small growers at a competitive disadvantage and expose children to sweets made from marijuana.

Polls show voters favoring Proposition 64.

The Yes on 64 has contributed $19.8 million to the measure, compared to the “No” campaign’s nearly $2.5 million.

Proposition 53

Proposition 53, the measure requiring voter approval for state-financed projects over $2 billion, could interfere with the California Water Fix, Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) plan to build two tunnels to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta, and a high-speed rail project. It has the backing of a wealthy, retired farmer, Dean “Dino” Cortopassi, an opponent of the two projects who has spent nearly $5 million on the measure, state financial reporting data shows.

Meanwhile, Brown’s 2014 reelection committee, contractors, business and labor groups, local governments, public safety groups and others have contributed over $11.3 million to fight approval of Proposition 53.

Threat to Water Projects

Opponents say the measure could block important state and local water supply, transportation and other infrastructure projects. The measure also lacks an exemption for emergencies and natural disasters, delaying the ability to rebuild after earthquakes, wildfires and floods, the “No” groups say.

“In November 2014, Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 1 to advance a wide range of water projects and vital water infrastructure,” Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“Proposition 53, if passed, will threaten major storage projects and other large scale investments that require the involvement of the state,” Quinn said. “Also, because of the legal uncertainty Proposition 53 would clearly create, it could undermine the success of a wide array of other local projects. Requiring a statewide vote for local projects that local citizens support and are willing to pay for robs those communities of their local discretion.”

The fiscal effects on state and local governments are unknown, the state Legislative Analyst office said in its review of Proposition 53. The measure is likely to cover only the largest projects that seek financing through revenue bonds. Proposition 53 fails to define a “project,” so the courts and state would need to make decisions on what single project would be subject to voter approval, the Legislative Analyst said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at CWhetzel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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